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ASM Heat Treating Conference-Chennai (Jan 2004)

Production Carbonitriding in LPG/CO2 /NH3 atmospheres In Batch Integral Quench Furnaces

P.A.Balakrishnan & B.K.Venkatesh (Techmat Enterprises (I) Pvt. Ltd.Chennai, India) Pratap Ghorpade & P.R.Suresh (Hightemp Furnaces Ltd Bangalore, India The FC-35 process originally introduced in Japan1 otherwise known as Fine Carburising process is widely used in a Production environment in Batch Sealed quench Furnaces for Carburising and Hardening applications. In this process, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) is used as a direct feed for producing carbursing atmosphere in the furnace. The use of direct feed Hydrocarbon /Air2and LPG/CO23 atmospheres is well documented. The FC35 atmosphere used with Ammonia (NH3) is reasonably successful for Carbonitriding treatment of wrought steel parts also. This paper describes the Carbonitriding process in Sealed quench furnaces in FC35 atmospheres and highlights the flexibility of the process as an alternative to the nitrogen/ methanol atmosphere. The results of a variety of steel parts that were Carbonitrided have been described also.

The FC-35 Process using Hydrocarbon (LPG)/Carbon dioxide (CO2) atmosphere was developed primarily for cost and energy savings in comparison to the classical Endo gas or the alternative Nitrogen-Methanol atmosphere4. The Nitrogen-methanol system became popular in India as a cheap substitute to Endogas atmosphere with the availability of low cost, high purity Nitrogen generated through on site PSA air separation and other similar equipments and also due to the free availability of Methanol. This also eliminated the need for high cost Endothermic generators and LPG bullet installation. However with the rising price of Methanol and also the strict Government restrictions in India in the handling and use of Methanol, many heat treaters are looking at alternatives to the once popular nitrogenmethanol atmosphere system. The FC-35 process developed and introduced in Japan and later successfully established in India4 in Batch Sealed Quench Furnaces by M/s Hightemp Furnaces Ltd is a very attractive alternative to Endo gas or Nitrogen-

Methanol atmosphere systems. Apart from cost and energy savings the other advantages of FC-35 process is in its flexibility, excellent metallurgical quality, shorter process times, and reduced furnace conditioning requirements. Thanks to the Government of Indias liberalisation policy of industrial licensing, LPG is readily available in typical 19 & 33 Kg. Cylinders. The cost of installation of LPG/ Carbon dioxide cylinder banks with manifolds is very low compared to a large LPG bullet installation or Nitrogen PSA generators and Methanol pumping and storage systems. Ammonia (NH3) required for the Carbonitriding process is sourced from typical 50 kg cylinders.


The carbon potential of the in-situ generated atmosphere in the FC- 35 process is monitored and automatically controlled in the batch furnaces using oxygen probes. The probe EMF (millivolt) produced is

used as the input signal to the Carbon Potential controller to control additions of the carburising gas (LPG) through a motorized actuator and a port valve into the furnace. Ammonia and CO2 flows are maintained constant through out the process during Carbonitriding in the FC35 process. Carbonitriding is a thermo chemical treatment usually conducted at temperatures in the range of 800-900 0C. As during carburising, when a controlled level of carbon is introduced at the surface and allowed to diffuse to the required depth; in Carbonitriding, nitrogen is also imparted, along with the carbon, to improve case hardenability. In gaseous Carbonitriding, both carbon (from additions of LPG) and nitrogen (from additions of NH3) diffuse into the surface of the steel, simultaneously and change the chemical composition of the surface of the part. Subsequent fast cooling by quenching in oil in the sealed quench furnace produces a hard case combined with a soft/tough core The quenching is normally followed by a low temperature tempering/stress relieving treatment. The FC 35 process Carbonitriding uses a carburising atmosphere produced in-situ from a mixture of LPG (composed of approximately 60-70 % Butane and 3040 % Propane, available in India) and commercial quality CO2, with addition of NH3. The transfer of carbon from LPG to the steel surface takes place via the reaction: 2CO C + CO2 The nitrogen activity is produced from NH3 as expressed by the following reaction: 2NH3 2N + 3H2

(1) Prewash (2) Carbonitride and Quench in a Sealed Quench Furnace (3) Post wash and Temper Figure 1: Typical FC35 Process Cycle 8800 C 8800 C

CP = 0.85%

Load Charge Constant CO2 (1 litre/min)

Temperature Carbonitriding Recovery Time

Oil Quench

Controlled LPG (3 litre/min)

Constant NH3 (1 litre/min)


A typical Carbonitriding process cycle using the FC35 atmosphere would be as follows (Fig 1): Prewash Condition/Season furnace atmosphere at 880C (Carbon Potential 0.85%), using only LPG/CO2 Load furnace and recover to set Carbonitriding temperature as desired by heat treat specifications and chemistry of part (Typically 800-8800C) carbon potential is controlled automatically during recovery in relation to set temperature. Carbonitride at set temperature and set carbon potential (CP) for required period. Varying the LPG flow automatically by means of a motorised valve automatically controls the carbon potential. CO2 flow volume is set at a constant value. NH3 volume is also set at a constant value. Quench in oil after set time period has elapsed. Post wash and temper A typical process cycle would be as follows

Evaluation of the FC 35 process for single stage Carbonitriding was carried out using a series of nine test pieces in a charge (placed at eight corner positions and the ninth piece at the centre of the charge basket) in order to assess the uniformity of Carbonitriding treatment results. The test pieces were examined for case depth quality, hardness traverse profile and surface hardness.

1 2 6

5 3 7 9

8 2


Figure 2 shows the Hardness traverse profile tests, and Figure 3 shows the Effective Case Depth values measured on nine samples in a typical full load batch of an IS 513 Type D grade steel. The component is a typical machined part. Figure 2: The variation in the effective case depth in the nine samples was in the range of 0.17 to 0.20 mm.

Material Specifications: IS 513 Type D Carbon Silicon Sulphur Phosphorous = 0.12 % 0.15 % = 0.10 % < 0.04 % < 0.04 %


The following results are compiled from carbonitrided production batches on a typical fine blanked toothed engine component, The uniformity in surface hardness (measured on a Hardness Rockwell A Scale) and the case depth variation, are within acceptable limits as seen in Figures 4 and 5. The Surface hardness specified on the toothed area is 75-83HRA. The Case Depth is specified as the depth, at which the hardness measured on an HV0.3kg scale is 50 HV more than the core hardness. The material is IS 513 Type D. The specification requires a Case Depth of 0.50 to 0.80 mm. These results were tabulated from 25 continuous production batches; to demonstrate the stability of the FC 35 process when used for Production Carbonitriding, in a batch type Sealed Quench Furnace. It can be seen that Carbonitriding using the FC35 process is an effective and stable process. Figure 4: Batch-to-Batch Surface Hardness results for a Fine Blanked Toothed Engine Component, Carbonitrided in FC35 atmosphere Material: IS 513 Type D

Hardness Profiles of Nine Test Samples Carbonitrided in FC - 35

800 700 600

Hardness ( HV )


500 400 300 200 100 0 0.05 0.15 0.2 0.25

Distance from Surface ( mm )

Figure 3: The effective case depth for this part is defined as a depth of the part surface layer with a minimum hardness of 50 HRC (513 HV1)

Case Depth Uniformity in FC - 35 Carbonitriding Process



Case Depth ( mm )



82 Surface Hardness in HRA


80 78 76 74 72

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Sam ple Test Pieces No

From these results it is evident that Micro Hardness Traverse profiles and uniformity of case depth, in the FC 35 Carbonitriding process are of a high quality.

70 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 Number of Production Batches

Figure 5: Batch-to-Batch Case Depth results for a Fine Blanked Toothed Engine Component, Carbonitrided in FC35 atmosphere Material: IS 513 Type D

Figure 7: Surface Hardness comparison for 15Cr3 material sprockets in FC35 and Nitrogen-Methanol atmospheres

1 . 00 0 . 90 0 . 80 0 . 70 0 . 60 0 . 50 0 . 40 0 . 30 0 . 20 0 . 10 0 . 00 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 0 11 12 13 14 15 1 6 1 7 1 8 1 9 20 21 22 23 2 4 2 5 No . o f P r o du c t i o n B a t c he s

85 84 83 82 81 80 79 78 77 76 75 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Number of Components

Surface Hardness in HRA

FC 35 Process

N2+Methanol Process


Carbonitriding in conventional Nitrogen Methanol and also in FC35 atmosphere were conducted on a typical full load of Fine Blanked Two wheeler sprockets made out of 15 Cr3 steel, for a comparative study. Component surface hardness and Hardness traverse profiles on nine samples tested from both these loads are shown in Figures 6 and 7. The specifications call for a Surface Hardness of 77-83 HRA, and a Case Depth of 0.50-0.70 mm (HV0.3kg/550) Figure 6: Hardness Traverse Profile comparison for 15Cr3 material sprockets in FC35 and Nitrogen-Methanol atmospheres
900 800 700 Hardness in HV 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 0.10 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.50 0.60 0.70 0.75 Traverse in mm

It can be clearly seen that the results obtained in the FC35 process is comparable to that treated in the Nitrogen-Methanol atmosphere, and were considered to be of an acceptable quality standard



Case Microstructure Consists of Fine Tempered Martensite with approximately 10 % Retained Austenite

Mag: 400X

FC 35 Process

N2+Methanol Process

Mag: 100X

(1) FC35 process using Ammonia is a stable process for Carbonitriding, and the results are comparable to Carbonitriding in Nitrogen Methanol atmospheres with Ammonia. (2) With the proven cost advantages of the FC 35 process Carbonitriding in FC-35 atmospheres gives an added advantage and makes it an attractive and viable for production heat treatment.

1) Naito T. & Ogihara K., Examined the direct Carburising method 1995 Carburising and nitriding with Atmospheres(Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Carburising and Nitriding with Atmospheres, Cleveland, 6 8 Dec. 1995) ASM International 1995, 43 51 2) Hewitt W., Users View of Carburising with Direct Feed Hydrocarbon/Air Atmospheres (Supercarb) Heat Treatment of Metals Vol. 27 2000.2 3) P.Ghorpade & K.Bennett., Production Carburising in LPG/CO2 Atmospheres for Energy and cost Savings. - Heat Treatment of Metals Vol. 2002.1 4) Bowes R. G., Sheehy B. J., Stratton P. F., A New Approach to Nitrogen Based Carburising- Heat Treatment of Metals 1979.3